For the first time in a decade, the number of hungry people on the planet is on the rise. The United Nations estimates the number of food-insecure people at 815 million in 2017—up from 777 million just two years ago.
There’s a potentially timely solution to help address this critical gap in our hunger fighting toolkit: the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization.
Every five years or so, lawmakers in our nation’s Capital reauthorize a bill that combines support for American farmers with assistance for families struggling to access nutritious foods.
The Farm Bill is an important example of our country’s deep reliance on one another, with neighborhoods nationwide coming together to ensure that no one—either at home and abroad—goes hungry, all while ensuring that agriculture producers have the tools needed to succeed.
One of the most well-known elements of the Farm Bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is among the most sophisticated social safety net programs in the world—and it works. In 2016 alone, the SNAP program pulled more than 3.6 million people out of poverty, many of them children. The program also has a genuine multiplier effect on the economy, which is why it played a central role in the 2009 stimulus efforts.
Some 71,182 households in the 2nd District of Pennsylvania became more food-secure in 2016 thanks to SNAP, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Meanwhile, the number of Americans on SNAP is the lowest number in nearly six years, demonstrating the program’s ability to graduate participants as our economy improves. Our country should be transferring these lessons learned at home to the growing number of fragile countries worldwide. We wouldn’t go without a food-based safety net in this country; others shouldn’t either.
Food policy is our foreign policy—and this year’s Farm Bill cycle offers a unique opportunity to reinforce this idea. The next Farm Bill should expand the authority for the USDA—particularly the Food and Nutrition Service—to provide technical assistance for the development of food-based social safety net systems in developing countries. In just one example, the Richard Russell National School Lunch Act is currently interpreted to limit the provision of USDA technical assistance to states and local schools. These authorities can be easily expanded—and now is the time to do so.
Ensuring global food security is an investment in our own national security. Almost 60 percent of the world’s 815 million hungry people live in countries affected by man-made conflict. What is universally true about modern conflicts today is that they do not respect borders. What we saw in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 global food price spike is that countries with functioning safety net systems—equivalent to America’s SNAP— were largely able to avoid the rioting and social unrest that occurred in countries without such social protection.
The 2016 Global Food Security Act emphasized the need to expand this form of support, but relative to other areas like access to markets and agricultural inputs—more traditional forms of food security assistance— this has yet to translate into significant gains abroad.
In many ways, functioning safety net systems are the long-term exit strategy for donor nations like the United States, protecting vulnerable people from shocks and ultimately contributing to the stability of our own nation. A loaf of bread to a hungry family might be one of the best tools in our toolbox to prevent the spread of terrorism.
The U.S. has a long bipartisan history of leading the global fight to end hunger—from the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of the Second World War to the Food for Peace food aid program that has reached over 3 billion people with lifesaving food grown by American farmers for over 70 years. This Farm Bill provides an opportunity to see that this legacy continues and that our successes at home are applied abroad in service to our future trading partners and allies. Food is the glue that keeps our neighborhoods united and strong both here at home and around our globe.
Rep. Dwight Evans represents Pennsylvania’s 2nd District which includes Northwest, West, North, parts of South and Center City Philadelphia, and the western suburbs of Narberth and Lower Merion Township. He serves on the House Agriculture Committee, specifically on the Subcommittee on Nutrition, and House Small Business Committee.